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What to wear cross-country skiing

March 21, 2024

Getting ready for a cross-country skiing trip can be a bit tricky, especially when it comes to choosing the proper clothing. It's essential to find a balance between staying warm and avoiding getting too sweaty. In this guide, we'll share some tips for beginners on what to consider when selecting clothing for cross-country skiing. And who better to ask for advice than Gunde Svan, one of the greatest cross-country skiers in history? Let's dive in and get you prepared for your adventure!


Layering for cross-country skiing

One common mistake beginners make when they start cross-country skiing is wearing their alpine clothing, but that gets way too hot! Downhill skiing involves bursts of intense activity followed by rest on the ski lift, leading to fluctuating body temperatures. In contrast, cross-country skiing demands sustained, high-intensity effort as the entire body remains in constant motion for extended periods. This places completely different demands on your clothing.

Opting for thin layers designed to wick away sweat is best for cross-country skiing. You might even find it's okay to feel a bit chilly at the outset, as your body heats up quickly once you're in motion. Always adjust your clothing according to your comfort and the intensity of your exercise, particularly in colder conditions.

Gunde Svan on the layering principle

“Dressing in layers is good because then you can adjust. As a beginner, you often ski for too long before taking off layers, leaving you chilly because you are already sweaty. That's why it's important to adjust before you get too hot. We often feel a bit chilly in the beginning since we know that otherwise, we'll have to take off the first layer after 500 meters.”

Base layer

When cross-country skiing, wearing a base layer that can effectively wick away moisture is crucial. That's why a base layer made from synthetic materials like polyester is typically the top choice. It should fit snugly against your body to maximise its sweat-wicking abilities without restricting movement.

When choosing socks and underwear for outdoor activities, opt for synthetic materials that wick away moisture to keep you dry and comfortable. Avoid cotton altogether! It absorbs moisture, increasing the risk of chafing and making you feel damp and cold. Consider wearing two pairs of thin socks to prevent chafing and improve moisture transport, but make sure they fit well in your boots without being too tight.

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Mid layer

Usually, you don't need a mid layer when you're cross-country skiing since you warm up quickly when you start moving. However, if you tend to get cold easily or if it's particularly chilly outside, having a thin, mid layer that you can quickly put on and take off in the track can be helpful. Again, it's good to choose a polyester mid layer that can quickly wick away moisture.

Outer layer

Choose a lightweight jacket and thin, flexible trousers or leggings as an outer layer. Ensure they have plenty of stretch to avoid restricting your movement, especially the jacket, which needs to be stretchy enough not to hinder poling. A gilet or bodywarmer is also an excellent choice as it keeps your torso warm and protected while allowing full freedom of movement for your arms.

The jacket and trousers should fit snugly to minimise air resistance and maximise moisture transport. If they are too loose, there's a risk of them billowing up, allowing cold air or snow to penetrate. Look for garments with wind protection on the front for added defence against windy and cold conditions.

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The neck warmer is your best friend on the cross-country ski trail! It is effortless to adjust while skiing. Pull it over your ears for added warmth in the cold, and if it gets too hot, simply remove it and wrap it around your wrist or stow it in your pocket.

Opt for thin styles made with synthetic materials like polyester when choosing hats and gloves. These materials provide the perfect balance of warmth and wind protection without causing overheating. Plus, they are great at wicking away sweat from your body.

Gunde Svan's expert advice when dressing for cross-country skiing

"Don't wear clothes that are too bulky! You use your whole body in all sorts of different ways, so it's important that you can move freely. If you wear warm, bulky clothes, it will be too sweaty and tiring. You feel worse than you are!"

Three tips for beginners from Gunde Svan


Don't embark on a long outing the first time. Start by standing on your skis and testing them on a flat spot where you can go back and forth. This will also allow you to test your clothes and easily adjust your layers without carrying everything along the trail. As a beginner, attending a ski school can also be a good idea, but get on your skis first to get more out of it.


It's better to go slow and far than short and fast when practising technique. Unlike in alpine skiing, you don't have support from the boots, so balance is crucial, especially when going downhill. Practice on a slight slope, lifting one ski at a time, focusing on balance and where you place your weight.


Good skis are essential. It's easier to find suitable equipment for skating, but classic skiing requires a bit more from the gear. Get assistance to find the right skis for you. If it feels tedious to wax, use skin skis if it gets you out and enjoying it.